Marius was closed so Jake strolled on down from Heritage Square in search of a friendly looking coffee shop. He enjoyed his early morning heart starter almost to the point where it had become compulsory. Marius had provided the near perfect quirky environment. An eclectic mix of battered old leather sofas, rickety tables and chairs from a bygone era and moth-eaten crimson velvet curtains seemed quite at home in the dimly lit lounge. Somehow he had managed to acquire a vast collection of artwork, mainly prints of old masters. Degas, Monet and Renoir featured prominently.
This worked well and was fortuitous as it was the quickest and easiest way to cover the peeling wallpaper and crumbling plaster. A mezzanine floor provided a hang-out for the more agile who gained access via a precarious set of wooden steps. The whole was typical of a bistro in a seedy part of Montmartre and had quickly become popular with university students of the arty variety.
Either by luck, lack of funds or ingenuity Marius had created an intimate relaxing atmosphere which he topped off with the best coffee and amazingly creative freshly made to order baguettes.
Jake found a small café at the top of Plein Street. The sign on the door said OPEN so he did. He walked this way most days, after visiting Marius, but strangely had never noticed the place. The ethereal atmosphere manifested itself in an angelic smile as Mitzi offered Jake freshly brewed coffee and a selection ranging from piping hot croissants to baguettes.
The offering was made by a gesture towards a clinically clean but nevertheless inviting patisserie counter stacked with newly baked breads and pastries. They must be expecting a flood of customers this morning, Jake thought as Maurice Chevalier sang ‘Thank Heaven for little girls’ in the background. How had he missed the finest bakery and coffee shop in Cape Town? ‘I must be the only customer because it’s only 7.30. By 8.00 they will surely be queuing outside.’ Jake thought the name tag pinned to Mitzi’s crisp white blouse seemed inappropriate in the small intimate, Provençale style café as she was the only waitress. ‘The wide-smiling, ponytailed, Greek coffee-maker must be the patron. I can’t see anyone else.’ While scanning the Business Day he couldn’t help thinking ‘I can’t recall a better cappuccino’ and the melt-in-the-mouth croissant with homemade apricot preserve made him want to order again. As his belt was now on the last notch he resisted.
The only relief from the solitude was the captivating Mitzi. ‘I’m sure I don’t know her but she is making me think she knows me well!’ Silently she lured him to the point where he blurted out. “Can I meet you after work?” Not the greatest pick-up line, only requiring a yes/no answer with a 50% chance of success. Without breaking the smile she, silently, took the saucer with Jake’s R100 note and the bill. ‘She clearly needs time to respond’ he consoled himself. He glanced again at the Business Day attempting to appear relaxed or ‘cool’ as they say in the modern vernacular. When she returned with his change, there on the saucer was a small folded piece of paper. ‘An answer’, he assumed. As he went to unfold it she put her forefinger to her lips, so he put it in his pocket, left the change and said “Goodbye.”
Jake walked out of the empty café into Plein Street to the strains of Edith Piaf and her original ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. As soon as his feet hit the pavement he was unfolding the crumpled note. [6.30 tonight. Cape Sun] Nothing else; no number; no email address.
He ignored his ritual evening walk along Sea Point’s promenade, showered, shaved and dressed himself to the nine’s. By 6.25 he was seated in a comfortable armchair in the foyer of the Cape Sun facing the main entrance so he wouldn’t miss her. No woman is ever early, especially on a first date so Jake wasn’t surprised when there was no sign of Mitzi by 6.45. At 6.55 he strolled outside.
There she was in the street, her face in shadow, the setting sun back-lighting her golden hair, smiling a smile that said everything but revealed nothing. The roar of traffic faded. There were no other players as she took his hand leading him across the stage into the silence of the wings. “Are you hungry?” was met only with a gentle squeeze of his hand as they walked through Greenmarket Square towards Gardens. Jake’s mind was fuzzy but he was relaxed as they approached his apartment. She seemed to know the way but he dismissed the thought, ‘how could she?’
Inside, Mitzi sipped the chilled Chardonnay he had expertly uncorked and delicately poured. There was no word and her ever-present smile gave no hint of honour to defend or thought for the consequence. She swirled to the music and beckoned Jake as her dress billowed with every dizzy turn. Come dance with me he read on her pursed lips; Come dance in my arms; Come dance with my body; Come dance with my heart; Come dance with my soul. Silently he lifted her lithe body as they spun to the music. Closer, closer. “I will, I will” she sighed throwing her golden locks to the night. Their souls on fire, they drowned in a state of bliss; two lives bound together in a moment, with no regret.
Then like a vapour trail in the atmosphere she vanished before the morning light.
Jake rose at 6.30 and by 7.30 he was just approaching the bottom of Plein Street. He’d taken a circuitous route as he was early and wanted to get to Mitzi’s café just as she was opening up. When he reached the top of Plein there was a pharmacy on one side and a run-down jewellers on the other. Both were closed. There was no sign of Mitzi’s café and none of the gorgeous aroma of freshly baked bread and coffee that so intoxicated him yesterday. Bewildered, dazed, confused, and with no one around to ask, he made his way on up to Heritage Square and Marius’ café.
“Good morning Jake. You’re early today. The Business Day is over there. Cappuccino and croissant, same as yesterday?”